Bond grounds Super Puma helicopters after North Sea ditching

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AVIATION firm Bond announced on Friday night that its fleet of Super Puma helicopters will remain grounded indefinitely as the wreckage of the chopper that ditched into the North Sea was recovered and brought ashore at Peterhead harbour.

• 12 passengers and two crew members were rescued from the sea

RNLI volunteers at the scene of the helicopter ditching. Picture: RNLI

RNLI volunteers at the scene of the helicopter ditching. Picture: RNLI

• The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) launched an investigation

• The aircraft has been transported back to Peterhead

The helicopter, which had remained afloat in choppy seas for almost 24 hours, was winched aboard the diving support vessel Seven Pelican shortly before midday.

The Super Puma EC225 was later transported by road to a hangar at Aberdeen airport, where experts from the government’s Air Accident Investigation Branch will begin the task of establishing the cause of a low oil pressure warning that led to the controlled ditching.

All 14 men on board survived, thanks to the skill and courage of the two unidentified pilots.

As Bond’s two rival helicopter operators continued to fly the same model of Super Puma helicopters offshore on Friday, the safety record of the Aberdeen-based company was questioned by trade union leaders.

Oil and Gas UK, the pan- industry trade body, announced that an emergency meeting of the industry’s Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) was to be held in Aberdeen on Monday to share preliminary information and identify any potential early lessons.

Trade union leaders had called for an urgent meeting of the special task force following the ditching – the third serious incident involving a Bond aircraft in three years.

An identical model of Super Puma was involved in a controlled ditching in February 2009. All 16 oil workers and two pilots escaped unscathed. In April 2009, two Bond pilots and 14 oil workers were killed when another version of the Super Puma, the AS332L2, plunged into the North Sea after suffering a “catastrophic” gear box failure.

On Thursday night, a senior Bond executive rejected union claims of two incidents involving engine problems on Bond helicopters in recent weeks.

Willie Wallace, regional officer of the Unite union, said none of the Bond-operated EC225s should be allowed to fly until the cause of the ditching had been firmly established.

He said: “Bond’s decision to ground the fleet makes sense after what we have heard about other recent problems. This was not an isolated incident. We have been told there was an incident on 19 April with the same type of chopper.”

He added: “ Any time somebody gets on a chopper there is trepidation. I don’t know if it’s coincidence, but all the problems recently have been with Bond. You wonder about that – do they have the vigorous structures and audit trails that are required?”